Real Story about Estate Sales

When I’m appraising antiques at my events, I’ll always have at least one person tell me as I review their item that they purchased their item while shopping at an estate sale. Read three real estate sale stories from my appraisal events. Audiences always inch up on their seats with excitement and anticipation. My immediate reaction is quite different as I look at the item. Of course, every item from an estate sale has a story–a story which the item often reveals is not true. I’ll share more of those stories in a future blog post.

Now I’ll share three tips which reveal the real story about estate sales. Do you like to shop at estate sales? Are you thinking of hiring a person to organize an estate sale for you? You’ll be surprised to learn that …

1. Estate Sale Dangers


The family of the deceased lost more money and wasted more time than they had to by selling through an estate sale. Estate sales can be costly in terms of percentage given up to the estate sale organizers and security personnel costs to prevent property theft. What happens if somebody hurts themselves falling down the stairs while in the house for the estate sale? Sure, you are covered for a water leak, but a sale open to the public? Don’t forget to double check your home owner’s insurance policy.

2. Is it from the Estate?

A shopper of an estate sale item always thinks that he got a better piece than he really did and that the piece is worth more than he paid. People think because it is called an estate sale that the piece is somehow better. Most people don’t know that many estate sales have additional objects added to them that were not from the original estate. Resellers will sometimes pull their inventory from their shops to be part of the estate sale. Some call it marketing, I call it fraud. Make sure you get documentation and proof for the item you are purchasing. Watch video where I explain pricing at estate sales.

3. Better than a Yard Sale

I often joke that estate sales are no different than yard sales except the owner isn’t around to make change. That is actually a very true statement. We make the mistake of thinking that an estate sale has better items than a yard sale does, but that is not the case.

Do you have an estate story to share? Did you buy a piece at an estate sale? Maybe you have hosted one? I want to hear about it. Please share it on Facebook or email it to me. I’ll include it in a future post. Plus, don’t forget to share this with somebody who shops or is hosting an estate sale.

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Avoid Foolish Tests on Antiques

When you go to buy something at Walmart, you know what you are buying, don’t you? The cashier doesn’t give you tips on how to determine what you are buying. That information is provided on the packaging. The cashier does not suggest special tests for you to perform in order to learn if you have just bought the real thing or if it’s authentic, does he/she?

This common practice of suggesting ‘tests’ that takes place often in antique shops should not be the way we buy objects or determine if they are authentic. You should know what you are buying. The seller should know what he is selling. If he doesn’t know, then he hasn’t done his job.

Here are three of the most common yet ridiculous tests that people have told me they tried in order to identify an antique. Don’t ever do these.

1. Take a Match to It


People have used this ‘test’ to determine if their piece like ivory poker chips are made of ivory or not. First, once you take a match to those poker chips or ivory bracelet, what does that tell you? It tells you that ivory will burn. Great, you just damaged and devalued your antique losing money and maybe your home. French ivory is very flammable, dangerous and its fire spreads quickly. Watch this video where I explain how to tell ivory from bone just by looking at it. Matches not required.

2. Pour Acid on It

This is a favorite of mine since very few know what the results mean, but they still attempt it. You might not attempt it on a ceramic Lladro figurine, but some will try it on a cast bronze sculpture in an attempt to determine its authenticity. People bring me their antiques to identify and I’ll find a piece of damage on the item during my review. The item’s owner will proudly tell me that is where they did the ‘acid test’. Of course, they don’t know what that was supposed to prove, but now their piece has lost value since it’s damaged. There is no need to be playing with acid since a reputable, educated appraiser like myself can help you identify your piece without the dangers of using acid.

3. Scratch the Surface of It

People have ruined many cast sculptures like those by artist Antoine Louise Baryne by scratching them to the point where the patina was damaged beyond repair. Watch video where I explain how most people mis-use the term patina. It’s an easy way to tell if you are dealing with an expert once you know the correct meaning of patina. Revealing the base metal on a sculpture and scratching away the patina or scratches overall will damage the look and the value of a cast metal sculpture. You scratch, you lose money. Part of my Ph.D. program at Penn State University was studying metal sculpture. None of it included ‘scratching tests’.

Let’s be logical about these silly tests. They are not needed and will cost you money in damaged pieces. Bring your antique or send photos to me for an honest, accurate appraisal–no fires, no scratching, no nonsense. Am I missing a test that somebody told you to do? Share it with me on my social media channels.

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